February 7th, 2012
01:59 PM ET

Slaughter in Syria: Rocket attacks, blood in the streets and a relentless fight for freedom

Throughout Syrian neighborhoods, the bombardment does not stop. It is relentless in its power. And it spares nobody, regardless of age.

Rocket and mortar fire pelts the town and the people striving to defend themselves against what they say is a brutal regime.

Graphic videos showing the battle against Bashar al-Assad's regime paint a gruesome picture of life in the country as residents struggle to release themselves from the grasp of a ruler they say they no longer want. Activists claim the Syrian city of Homs is under heavy bombardment by government forces, a claim the regime denies.

But the footage is so raw, it's hard to look at - and hard not to look at. While many of the details in the videos cannot be independently verified by CNN, the images alone are still haunting.

A child with bloodied clothing lies in a hospital, unable to move because her legs have been blown off. Some videos show bodies in the streets. Blood flows down the faces of people who are said to be victims of the attacks.

The blood of Syrians continues to flow, as does their anger - at both the regime they claim is killing them and international powers that have yet to be able to help stem the bloodshed.

The violence ratcheted up again after Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that would have demanded al-Assad stop the violence and seek a solution to the crisis.

Vetoes lead Syria to bloody stalemate

Many activists say they saw the vetoes as a green light for the Syrian regime to strengthen its crackdowns, though the government denies that.

After the vetoes, the U.S. and other governments said they would try other ways to pressure the Syrian government. On Tuesday, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the days of al-Assad's leadership "are numbered."

What is happening in Syria?

As the government sought to present an image of broad popular support on Tuesday after a day of brutal violence, opposition activists reported more deaths.

At least 21 people were killed Tuesday, including 15 in Homs, a 15-year-old just outside Homs and five in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.  At least 128 people were killed across the country Monday, mostly in Homs, according to the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission.

"The situation is beyond description," the commission said in a statement. "Some of these martyrs were killed with shrapnel and the others were under the rubble, and their bodies couldn't be identified because they were in remains."

Mousab Azzawi of the Syrian Network for Human Rights said "the situation is very dire." Monday was almost "like a bloodbath," he said.

"We have pictures of children under the age of 14 with half of their faces blown away, with children under the age of 4 with all of their bodies with nail bombs. We have pictures of one child who was dying on the lap of his mother under the age of 1," Azzawi said.

Residents are trying to get the message out to media outlets around the globe that they are terrified of their government and of dying.

U.N. officials have estimated that 6,000 people have died since protests began nearly a year ago. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists that organizes and documents protests, said that at least 7,339 people have been killed.

CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because the government has restricted journalists' access to the country. That means much of what we're seeing is an uprising being streamed on YouTube.

Mashable: World watches Syria’s uprising on YouTube

While attempts at diplomacy have failed to curb the estimated thousands of deaths in the 11-month-old conflict, residents and opposition activists say they are desperate for help in stopping the slaughter.

Who is fighting, and what are they hoping for?

When Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000, he promised a modern Syria. Human Rights Watch has called his time as president "the wasted decade," with media that remain controlled by the state, a monitored and censored Internet, and prisons filled with dissidents.

Now, after claims of brutal crackdowns and undelivered promises, opposition supporters just want an end to his rule.

Who is al-Assad? 

But it's not all that easy to figure out who is leading the charge against al-Assad.

Rival dissident army officers claim to lead the increasingly armed rebellion within Syria. The rift means it is unclear how much command the exiled officers have over defecting troops and other opposition groups.

During the more than 10 months since the uprising began, competing civilian exiles have also claimed leadership of the revolution.

Some Western diplomats working closely with opposition groups have privately expressed frustration with dissidents' lack of unity, even as the death toll continues to rise.

One thing is clear: Those who say they have been oppressed by the regime, who have been brutally beaten or who have seen friends die want to make sure they are doing what they can to end violence for other Syrians.

Those who attend nightly rallies in Damascus tell CNN's Arwa Damon that all they want is to be treated with dignity and respect, to voice their opinions without reprisal, to speak for the thousands killed, detained and tortured since the uprisings began in March.

And then there are some who feel like those at the rallies but are afraid of the turmoil and uncertainty, and so they remain caught in the middle.

On the streets of Syria, every day brings more reports of deaths. One disturbing video surfaced on YouTube purportedly showing several members of a slain family. In the video, the mother's eyes appeared to be gouged out. At least four children died with their parents. Opposition groups say the family was killed by government forces in Homs.

A rare glimpse inside protests in Syria

Such brutality isn't uncommon, according to a newly released report from Human Rights Watch.

"Syrian security forces have killed, arrested and tortured children in their homes, their schools or on the streets," said Lois Whitman, children's rights director at Human Rights Watch.

What are the politics?

Saturday's veto by U.N. Security Council members Russia and China of a draft resolution that would have demanded al-Assad stop the violence against the opposition has complicated international efforts to deal with the situation.

Russia and China said that although they support an end to the violence and want to promote dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition, they believe the resolution would have been one-sided. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in particular said the draft would have called on the Syrian government to stop violence "without the same for the armed groups."

Western diplomats expressed amazement at the vetoes, saying the resolution was watered down to accommodate other Russian concerns. The resolution had dropped demands from an Arab League plan for Syria to form a unity government and for al-Assad to delegate power to his deputy. U.N. diplomats said this was done because Russia had been reluctant to sign on to any plan that could be seen as a mandate for regime change in Damascus.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the United States was "disgusted" at the veto, and she said of Russia, "This intransigence is even more shameful when you consider that one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad."

Clinton: Vetoes a 'travesty' | Opinion: Why Russia protects Syria's al-Assad

Russia is one of Syria's biggest arms suppliers, and both Russia and China have various reasons to have friendly relations with Damascus, analysts in the United States said. The total value of Syrian contracts with the Russian defense industry probably exceeds $4 billion, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Russia and Eurasia Program. Russia also leases a naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus, giving the Russian navy its only direct access to the Mediterranean, Mankoff told CNN's Holly Yan.

And China was Syria's third-largest importer in 2010, according to data from the European Commission.

Why do China, Russia protect al-Assad?

Russia's Lavrov bristled at the veto criticisms, saying Western states "are trying to obscure the developments with hysterical statements on Russia's veto of the Syria resolution." China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, "China does not shelter anyone. We uphold justice and take a responsible attitude. We want the Syrian people to be free from the scourge of conflict and warfare."

And Syria's U.N. ambassador accused some powers of giving support, "in terms of money, and arms, and favorable media coverage, to armed terrorist groups that kill, abduct, and intimidate Syrian citizens."

Opinion: Veto begins proxy game pitting Arab Gulf states against Russia, Iran

Threat of proxy war, times two, in Syria

Nations that supported the resolution are now trying other ways to pressure the Syrian regime. The Gulf Cooperation Council - which includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait - announced Tuesday that its member states are pulling their ambassadors from Syria. Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Italy called home their ambassadors as well, and the United States closed its embassy in Damascus, saying Syria wasn't addressing its security concerns.

Mark Toner, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said that "by no means are we done here."

"We hear the people of Syria, and we want to move to support them. We’ve already got in place very strong sanctions, both bilaterally and multilaterally, and we’re going to seek to take additional steps against the Assad regime," he said this week.

What happens now?

Syria’s al-Assad has found a way to remain in power longer than many of the other leaders disposed of during the Arab protests, despite the growing protests against him.

Many leaders, including President Obama, have said it is time for al-Assad to step down. For many, it’s a question of just how long he can hold out amid international pressure.

But for the residents dealing with the daily increasing violence, the situation boils down to just more than a waiting game.

They are exhausted from fighting, but will continue to do so even if it means more blood in the streets, they say.

The U.S. State Department has constantly been briefing Americans via Twitter on how to contact the agency if they are caught in an emergency.

For some, the call will be for the global powers to finally put an end to al-Assad or to help the people of Syria do it themselves, in a fashion similar to Libya and the downfall of late strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Some want to see al-Assad fall at the hands of his own people.

Syria is on the brink of a civil war. And it could be a brutal one.

With the failure of U.N. action because of the veto, the conflict could escalate, wrote Shadi Hamid, a director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in a column for CNN.

“With that fateful decision, the conflict moved to another, more dangerous stage,” Hamid wrote. “Those who warn that Syria will descend into civil war are a bit behind: It is already in civil war. Now it will only intensify.”

Hamid said the next step may be deciding whether military intervention is necessary, and if so, by whom.

“So we find ourselves in an odd but increasingly common situation, where Syrians themselves are more enthusiastic about foreign military intervention than Americans are,” Hamid writes. “It is, in this sense, the reverse of Iraq, which was rightly seen by many as a tragic Western imposition.”

How much do we owe it to Syrians to step in and help drive the final nail into the coffin of al-Assad's regime? And would it be different than the situation in Iraq, because perhaps some of the people there would like the U.S. and others to step in?

“Here, it is Syrians themselves who are pleading for the international community to come to their aid. In December, the Syrian National Council "formally endorsed" foreign intervention,” Hamid wrote. “If they formally request military assistance - presumably the next step - we have a moral responsibility to take it seriously.”

soundoff (566 Responses)
  1. citizen

    Looks like CNN is lobbying for Obama to be the "policman of the world". Funny how things change. Politically speaking that is.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • What in the ham sammich

      Isn't that the UN's job? Why are folks always calling on the US, then hating the US before the job is done. Let the UN handle this for once.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      I'm sorry to the Syrians. As an American I feel pain watching your agony. However we can't start a world war in order to save your lives. A world war in a nuclear armed era would spell the end of all of humanity. There are consequences to every action, and unfortunately the actions probably weren't your own, but they weren't ours either. Your country has long been an ally of Iran, China, and Russia. All countries which stand in opposition to the United States sending military strikes based on it's opinions. We must work with all of the nations of the world or we will once again be turned into the villain by the various cultures that are similar to yours that hate us. We are not really the hand of God, nor do we have all the answers. The problem your country is facing is beyond our capabilities to fix. I sincerely hope that you and your brothers and sisters are able to group together and resist tyranny and to right the wrongs perpetrated on you by your middle-eastern brothers. However the only thing the US can offer you is more death, so please stop asking.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank Brady

      We've seen this act before, people. Wake up and smell the coffee for Pete's sake.
      Step One: U.S.-based "non-governmental organizations" (wink! wink!) like NDI destabilize the target government through a little "community organizing.
      Step Two: After a few instigated riots, U.S., NATO, and GCC special ops people stand up a local army, often populated and led by former al Qaeda fighters (as in Libya).
      Step Three: After much (alleged) bloodshed and violence, the "International Community" (that's the U.S. and its retinue of failed European Welfare States) is compelled to intervene with military force (on humanitarian grounds, of course).
      Step Four: The evil dictator is overthrown and the U.S. and its allies stand up a new government.
      This often backfires (see Egypt) but it does draw the American public's attention away from the hideous state of the national economy for a while...

      February 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      With Russia and/or China filibustering anything and everything, just as one or two republicans have simply done when Obama first came into office, the U.N's hands are tied. Luckily, Republicans and congress can't obstruct his military decisions and that is why we've been so successful on that front. With U.N's hands tied thanks to Russia/China, who else could make a difference and stop the genocide besides the U.S?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Abizaib

    Yeah whatever. Good decision China and Russia! Let them make their own decisions and figure out their own issues. Unlike the US/NATO that meddle in everyones business by bombing the crap out of them. Ask the Libyans – they are already fed up of what they wished for – now they are miserable and scrwed. Be careful you wish for.

    And yes other international media outlets are showing cheering Syrians in support of Assad. Well we didn't see that on CNN apparently. BTW US/NATO need not worry about changing public opinion via CNN etc. as its irrelevant anyway.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Shame Shame Shame

      February 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boes73

      If CNN is not relevant, why bother to post?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • aka_Specs

      Yea yea...we get it Abizaib, your a 'Martyr for the cause'...you've got your trusty Soviet-era Kalashnikov model 47, and enough ball-bearing with your homemade explosives attached to your 'martyr vest' to level a whole hospital floor...in the name of 'your God'. As long as your targeting other Arabs and not traveling outside of Syria...I don't care. Do the world a favor...and finish the job you've already set out to do...push the button

      February 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Why after seeing the aftermath of Iraq, Egypt, Libya, would another nation enter into open rebellion with no clear plan to defeat their dictators except to beg for help from the west? Don't you know what happens next? Please for the love of all that is good, next time you plan a rebellion, plan it out. If you get another nation to do it for you, you become a vassal state. Is that really better then your current government? I think I might just wear a head scarf and bow at the appropriate times if I was you.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Abizaib

      @Boes73: Who said anything about CNN being irrelevant? I meant YOUR opinion is irrelevant, as are YOU. US/NATO don't care of what you think. They'll plan and execute, so quit celebrating your sham democracy.

      @aka_Specs: Relax! Go get laid or something. Your rant has out of context and your barking is misguided.

      @Rick: Have you signed up yet?

      @Snap: Ummm ok!?

      February 7, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NODAT1

    O where O where is the great Muslim religion and culture leaders? Why are they allowing this to continue?

    Yes I’m American and I would like to help those who cant help themselves, what going on over there is a total breakdown civil standards, but after order is restored and limited peace is obtained they will want blood and I don’t want to be accused of something didn't do just because I’m an American. I don’t want to be killed or kidnapped and put on trial just because I’m an American, so I think we need to sit this one out and let the Muslim backed nations in the region take care of this.

    So would the real Muslim leaders please stand up and take care of this!!!!!!!
    that if you are true to your religion!!!!!!!

    February 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      Please don't use the words "great", "Muslim", and "leaders" in the same sentence.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • aka_Specs

      I agree...the United States and the so-called 'Vile West' should stay out of the affairs of Syria. With all their so-called "Allies" and their 'God'...what more do they need?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. C Pierce

    Just heard Wolf B and Y Ajabi discuss this on CNN – Yes, Ajabi – the USA CAN AND SHOULD SIT IDLY BY!!!!!! I don't want another single dollar of my tax money sent overseas to assist / destroy / rebuild ANY foreign countries. We have enough work to do here!!! Let the Muslim nations of the world help the Syrians overthrow their dictator. Tired of watching the USA gov't send my money to foreign countries that hate us.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hitman

    Stop the protest and maybe no more people will die. Simple?

    February 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miami1111

      Too late to stop now. The point of no return has been reached a long time ago.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matty13

      Assad is blaming this on terrorists and outside aggitators. There are millions of them. Where did they come from? All of a sudden millions of terrorists and outside aggitators arrived in his country? Does he really believe the world is buying this excuse for murder?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. EricTouroLawGrad

    With all due respect and without attempting to belittle any suffering by innocents, please compare this flagrant bombardment of Syrian civilians to the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza war which occured less than 200 miles away in which the world chided Israel for "disproportionate force" used against Palestinian civilians. Regardless of the politics, here is a regional comparison of actual "disproportionate force" being used on civilians as compared to the surgical response taken by israel on militants hiding amongst civilian populations. It would be nice if the world remembers how devestating actual reckless warfare can be the next time Israel is accused of such nonsense.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • careful reader

      and hello, token Israeli pushing his own agenda! Palestinians, stateless and paper-less as of the over 30 resolutions on a Palestinian state vetoed by the US, had actually none of the weapons you see the Syrian rebels carrying and lost several thousand to plane strikes while the infrastructure of their cities was bombed into stone age. Not sure what "surgical precision" we are talking here. I realize how itchy you are for an Iran war and hopeful for the US to fight it.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • aka_Specs

      Just so you know...most Americans (and the so-called 'Vile West' for that matter)...don't care about Syria. The so-called powerful Muslims can solve the problems themselves...why not call on their almighty powerful neighbors...Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya...I mean c'mon...you idiots always scream "Allah Ackbar"...so how "Great" is your "God" now?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • DavidCharles

      This "surgical" response you speak of was a barbaric attack on a defenseless population. Israel's Operation Cast Lead killed thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom were women and children. Israel has a long history of butchering women and children. It is useless to try to spin it or whitewash it.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. james

    look at it this way; 3000 arned men takes atlanta by force. kills half the police. what would be our responce.
    better still could you devote you same energy to protecting our country from people entering illegally, stopping the drug traffic, rise of gangs, failure of our education system, or starving people in this country. OPPS. sorry that dont get world headlines

    February 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Fredflintstone

    On the road to islam, even the trees die

    February 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      The next world war will be fought to eradicate Islam. You can count on it. Give it about 10 more years, max.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dave from michigan

    the people of the middle east hate the people of the west an use terrorist attacks to carry out their point. they also spend lots of time killing each other in bomb attacks in the streets of the middle east like iraq afganistan pakistan and many other countries. thay blame the whole world for their own short comings . in syria the syrians are are killing each other and now say what is wrong with the rest of the world that we in the middle east hate for not helping them! the answer is at least with this 60 year old man i am bored with the whole middle east and don't care if they all start killing each other until the last one is standing! gee we might even have piece in this world for a change !

    February 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • aka_Specs

      Let them thin their own numbers...for every man, woman and child they take the life of...that's one less 'Martyr for the cause'

      February 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. God

    http://tinyurl.com/75hnzas

    February 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. concerned

    i would be willing to do without goods manufactured in china. am sick of the quality of goods manufactured there. their alignment with russia on this issue says volumes. killing is wrong. you are murderers if you approve of such to control your people.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MattinDC

    Syria = Islam & Muslims at Their VERY BEST. You keep YOUR religion and KILL yourselves.
    Nuff said.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      Isn't religion great?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kommy

    What a truckload of BS, watch Syrian people cheering Russians in Damascus.

    http://theeuropeanaffairs.blogspot.com/2012/02/huge-crowds-welcome-russia-fm-lavrov-in.html

    There are hand full of terrorists which need to be killed to preserve the country.

    And may be theirs families too, as Israel does.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Can't Trust China

    And right about now the racist Han Chinese government is salivating and rubbing their hands in glee.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      You shouldn't trust the USA gov't any more than you do the Chinese. Our own leaders completely screwed us – not China.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • aka_Specs

      China really isn't in this segment...other than China and Russia vetoing to do anything useful with the country of Syria...I say that the United States and rest of the 'Vile West' stay out of the affairs for once. Let them kill themselves...to them, its just target practice.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. T. Lee

    What Bashar al-Assad's regime is doing against their own people is a 1000 x worse than Gadhafi.

    Where is NATO and all the soaring rhetoric of "protecting civilians"...France, England, the US??

    A tougher foe than Gadhafi.....................hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

    February 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • MattinDC

      Libya was more isolated being in North Africa = EZ targets for NATO.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
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